Aodh Mac Domhnaill (1802–67)


Life

b. Lower Drumgill, Co. Meath; acted as schoolteacher in the Glens of Antrim; m. Brigid Roe of Ballybailie, Co. Louth, 1827, with whom a dg., Anna; became Bible instructor for the proselytising Home Mission under the aegis of the Irish Society for Promoting the Education of the native Irish through the Medium of their Own Language (fnd. 1818); subseq. with London Hibernian Society and the Presbyterian Home Mission; involved in scandal when he falsified the number of Bible Schools in the Glens, and was exposed by Fr. Luke Walsh; suffered death of Brigid, Dec. 1836;

 
moved to Belfast, as assistant to Robert Shipboy McAdam [q.v.], working for him as a language teacher, MS collector and transcriber, 1842-56; he wrote a treatise on natural philosophy (Fealsúnacht); author of a poem, “I mBéal Feirste cois cuain”, celebrates the Gaelic learning of the Belfast scholars Samuel Bryson and Larry Duff; also “Nach tuirseach mo thuras an tráth seo”, a peace-offering to Art Mac Bionaid; wrote several poems on the Great Hunger [Famine] incl. “The Spoiling of the Potatoes” (Feb. 1846), and “The Song of the Beggars” (July 1847); returned to work for the Bible Society, c.1856; spent his latter years in Bun Beag, Co. Donegal, with his daughter - who was married to Cathal Ó Cearbhalláin; died in the poorhouse in Cootehill, Co. Cavan; b. Moyra Cemetery, Donegal; a later MS from his hand is held in Maynooth; his funeral expenses were covered by MacAdam.

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Works
Colm Beckett, ed., Aodh Mac Domhnaill: Dánta (Dublin: An Clóchomhar, 1987), 210pp. [containing 44 original poems]; Colm Beckett, ed., Fealsúnacht Aodha Mhic Dómhnaill (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1967), vii, 301pp.

Note: In Cormac Ó Gráda, ed., Drochshaol: Béaloideas agus Amhráin (1994), contains two poems by Mac Domhnaill out of a total of twelve in the anthology. (See Fionntán de Brún, op. cit., 2011, as infra.)

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Criticism
Breandán Ó Buachalla, I mBéal Feirste Cois Cuain (Baile Αtha Cliath: An Clóchomar 1968); Colm Beckett, Aodh Mac Domhnaill: Poet and Philosopher (Dundalk: Dundealgan Press [W. Tempest] 1987), 30pp.; and Fionntán de Brún, ‘Expressing the Nineteenth Century in Irish: The Poetry of Aodh Mac Domhnaill (1802–67)’, in New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, 15, 1 (Earrach / Spring 2011), pp.81–106. See also Bearnárd Ó Dubhtaigh, review of Fealsúnacht, in Studia Hibernica (1969), 171-178pp.

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Commentary
Fionntán de Brún, ‘Expressing the Nineteenth Century in Irish: The Poetry of Aodh Mac Domhnaill (1802–67)’, in New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, 15, 1 (Earrach / Spring 2011), pp.81–106: ‘[...] Aodh Mac Domhnaill’s poetry is not distinguished by any sustained aesthetic accomplishment, but rather, by a sense of formal and public duty. These qualities show forth in his elegies, praises, and addresses. These include elegies for Thomas Davis and Daniel O’Connell, a “valedictory” address to O’Connell’s son John on the occasion of his journey to France, and a welcoming address to William Smith O’Brien in anticipation of the Young Irelanders’ ill-fated 1847 meeting in Belfast. There is some irony, as Beckett notes, in Mac Domhnaill’s self-appointed role as spokesman for a public that was not even aware of his existence.’ (p.89; citing Colm Beckett, Aodh Mac Domhnaill: Poet and Philosopher, Dundalk 1987, p.17.) [Note: the information in this file is substantially drawn from de Brún’s article.]

Further: ‘The continual reiteration of promised delivery from the present in aisling poetry points to a certain temporal disjunction in the consciousness of Gaelic Ireland fromthe seventeenth century onward. If the native Irish had become, in Pádraig de Brún’s phrase, “cine gan tuairisc” or “a race without record” in the [89] eighteenth century, then in the nineteenth century they began to resemble the anachronistic undead of Gothic novels in which, as W. J.McCormack remarks, “wrongful disinheritance is an explicit formula.”’ [...] (Fionntán de Brún, pp.89-90; citing Pádraig de Brún, ‘“Gan Teannta Buird Ná Binse’: Scríobhnaithe na Gaeilge, c. 1650-1850,&'146; in Comhar, Samhain 1972, 19; and W. J. McCormack, ‘Irish Gothic and After: 1820-1945’. in Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed. ed. Seamus Deane, 1992, Vol. 2, p.834.) Fionntán de Brún adds: ‘An indignant urgency is added to the sense of temporal displacement in MacDomhnaill’s poetry when he records the disastrous consequences of famine.’ (Op. cit., p.91.) [Cont.]

Fionntán de Brún, ‘[...] The Poetry of Aodh Mac Domhnaill’, in New Hibernia Review (Spring 2011): ‘“The Spoiling of the Potatoes” (February 1846) begins with the poet bemoaning the subjection of the Irish people to “lucht Béarla” or “English speakers.” It expresses the stock regret for such absent heroes as Finn Mac Cumhaill, Mac Dáire and Conchúr Mac Neasa. The traditional notion that a just ruler brought abundance to the land is then enlisted to explain thematerial consequences of conquest. Mac Domhnaill asks his putative audience to consider if all that has been said regarding the blight is true: that it has been caused by “the friars who have broken the commandments of the saints” or “the queen who counted the people of the land,” a reference to the 1841 census, or whether the disease has “arrived as others on the wind?” The poet concludes that the real cause of the blight is “the curse of the Pope on Martin [Luther] for his breaking of the law / which has brought destruction on all of the potato crop in the night / and you’ll yet see Seán Buí [England] breached and laid to waste.” In 1846, Mac Domhnaill evidently felt that because the potato had come to Ireland bymeans of the English court, the author of Ireland’s plight might return again to its source. The rather limp wish expressed in the final line is that the old Spanish ally will come soon with potatoes.’ [Note: de Brún supplies his own translation of “The song of the Beggars” into English on p.94, and notes variations in the prior translation by Antain MacLochlainn.)

Fionntán de Brún [cont.] Mac Domhnaill [...] persevered in expressing, in Irish, some of the defining experiences of the nineteenth century. In particular,Mac Domhnaill bore witness to the huge shift from a localized rural economy to the urban industrial centers, a shift thatmany felt led to further impoverishment,what John Mitchel caustically describes as “the nineteenth century with its enlightenment and paupers.” (De Brún, op. cit., p.104; citing Mitchel, “The Famine Year,” in Jail Journal [1854], London: Sphere Books, 1983 [edn.], p. 415.)

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Quotations
Philosophy of Aodh Mac Domhnaill [Fealsúnacht Aodha Mhic Dómhnaill]: ‘You must understand, reader, that God, in the beginning,made all creation male and female, and that everything that is female is fertilized by the male, and that it is the richness of the female body which rears and strengthens the bodies of all natural beings till they grow to maturity. / When a sower sows a crop in the ground, the earth is fertilized by it and this royal mother produces the same variety; but supposing no-one cultivates nor sows seed in the earth, it is clear that she herself produces fruit, but the sort that comes fromnature is not like the kind sown by the human sower. Instead, a wild seed comes, without good flavour, after the nature of the sower by whom it was sown, that is, the sky. For every kind of weather that comes from the sky has various seeds mixed with it. This is especially true of rain and dew, so that if the seeds fall on bare red earth, on a stony road or on hard ground, within forty-eight hours they will appear as a green sward like a field ... So that from this we understand that the soil is the female and natural mother of all things, and accordingly the air is her lover and dear spouse as God in his wisdom has ordained.’ (Quoted in Fionntán de Brún, ‘Expressing the Nineteenth Century in Irish: The Poetry of Aodh Mac Domhnaill (1802–67)’, in New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, Spring 2011, citing Colm Beckett, Aodh Mac Domhnaill: Poet and Philosopher, 1987, p. 13.)